Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Imagination vs. Antiseptic Standard Descriptions

In my previous post about Vancian magic someone commented that "Part of my like for it stems from the weird names of the old spells ("Otto's Irresistable Dance," etc.)" I also enjoyed Gary's creative and odd naming of things. Rather than bemoan the passing of that creativity, we should rather be spurred on to continue in that tradition. You have undoubtedly read before that instead of just saying, "I attack", you could say, "I draw back and give a tremendous overhead chop with my bloody falchion attempting to cut the foul creature in two!" No news here, that is fairly standard advice. So why are we limited to the antiseptic spell names and descriptions? I say that you are only limited by your imagination and the effort you spend. You could cast color spray. Instead you could weave arcane symbols in the air and speak the difficult words of power and release Marigus Coruscating Assault. At the completion of casting a myriad of sparkles of red, green and blue light spray forth from the casters eyes and growing quickly in size to become recognizable as twirling knives, axes and scythes which fill the area of the cone as a brief assault against all in the area. You could cast Cause Fear. Instead the wizard casts Fear the Mage. The target of the spell suddenly has a flash of understanding of the dark power of the mage who cast the spell. You could cast Burning Hands. Instead the wizard casts Icy Breath (like burning hands but cold). At the completion of casting the mage blows forth an icy breath in a cone. Lastly, there is no reason the DM has the sole responsibility for creative descriptions in the game. I challenge the players to stand up and be counted. If you miss 'old school' D&D for the descriptions, then I say there is nothing to miss. Let the spirit of Gary flow regardless of what version of the game you play.


  1. God I love Color Spray. Ever have, since that Moody Blues concert. Not '68 though, '88. Ya know, I missed the 60's by less than 48 hours. Spirit in the Sky was '69 though, I think. Wait, what was I talkin' about? But (only so slightly) more seriously, I'm all in favor in taking back or adapting spell names or attibuting new ones to great wizards, such as "Rowling's Teleportation Powder" etc.

  2.'s a long time since I've heard that one. Back in the day (and I'm about 1700 days older than Ze Bulette) we used to seek out these old words deliberately and use them - so rather than 'cut in two' we would 'hew it in twain'. We would eat victuals rather than food, quaff rather than drink and use insults like slubberdegullion and lackwit. Even now, I find that I am able to summon up a score of words to stand in for 'stupid' including 'Danglebrain', which has my son in stitches.

    We should, as you say, be spurred on to emulate Gygax in this; how many of us would never have known what a dweomer was unless we had played D&D?

    I'm currently working on a group of NPCs from the past who can lend their names to spells in my campaign; yeah, love Bigby and Tenser but that's someone else's game and I want to idiosyncratise the spell list somewhat.

  3. I agree, and it's something I should be doing more of. The one obstacle of course is when you swing your axe and state that you've "hewed the hobgoblin from shoulder to crotch," only to realize he's got 5 levels of warrior and your 12-point blow becomes a dent in his epaulette :).

  4. @ Daddy Grognard: Mordenkainen, Tenser, Bigsby, and the lot have their place but not in our campaigns if they were not NPCs there. You are right on attributing the great spells in you game to the great wizards who brought them forth.

    @ Brian: Yes, you are correct that players shouldn't be describing the result of the action - but I am happy to have players more creatively describe the start of the action. A good DM will follow through with a creative description. The mighty blow might indeed open up the hobgoblin from shoulder to crotch, but it might also bury the axe in the blood soaked ground between its legs after it deflects of its mangy hide armor. My comment was less about combat descriptions and more about deflecting complaints about unimaginative names and descriptions when the solution is right on the tip of our tongues.


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